Research Concept of the Excellence Cluster Topoi
The category of knowledge, in our use of the term to describe the formation and transformation of ancient societies, embraces knowledge of space as well as knowledge embedded within space, including the implicit structure of phenomena that are influenced through their spatial configuration.
Topoi encompasses the entire spectrum of knowledge, from the pragmatic and patently implicit to the theoretical and manifestly empirical. The spatial emphasis of the Excellence Cluster, while centered on the cultures of the Mediterranean, the ancient Near East, and the Black Sea region, also extends, through the work of some of its projects, into the Eurasian steppe and central Europe. The chronotopic strata that the project investigates reach from 7,000 BCE in the Neolithic up through the medieval and early modern periods. The cluster focuses on constructive and transformative processes in antiquity as well as on critical reflections on our own methods and theoretical framework, including archaeological and scientific methods, documentation and interpretation of textual and iconic remains. The presentation of the ancient world to our contemporaries through vivid exhibitions of these findings in museums and other public arenas also forms an integral component of our work.
The ancient world offers us an unparalleled field of investigation set amidst the archives of human history: not only can the roots of so many modern concepts be traced back to antiquity, but the full breadth of their macro-historical formation, reformation, and transformation can only be fully perceived from the perspective of the ancient world. These archives provide us with data of every kind, such as climatic change, the social dynamics surrounding mechanical innovations, the diffusion of technical knowledge, and even the development of new forms of space (political, cosmological, or ensouled). Topoi represents a new kind of laboratory in which macro-historical knowledge can be collected, tested, and interpreted: the possibility of observing practices and innovations within a comparative framework throughout the course of human history provides us with a newly elevated perspective that can be compared with parallel developments in other parts of the world and from which we can judge not only the success or failure of an innovation at the moment of its inception, but more importantly the full extent of its social reverberations and sustainability.